Last October, 50 pastors from the Association of Life-Giving Churches and I met in Detroit with Imam Hassan Qazwini, one of the Islamic religious leaders from the Islamic Center of America in Detroit. We were interested to hear Qazwini because Dearborn, Michigan, has the largest Arabic population in the United States and, consequently, has a strong Islamic community.
When Qazwini finished his remarks, one of the pastors asked him why the Islamic community believes that Jesus was a prophet but doesn't accept what He said about being the Son of God, the Lamb of God and the Savior of the world. Qazwini said: "We believe that everything Jesus taught about Himself and salvation applied to everyone He was speaking to, and to everyone who heard of Him until the prophet Muhammad spoke to us. Jesus was a prophet for His time, but we have a more current revelation."
It's easy to shake our heads at this, but many people in the Christian church believe something similar. As Qazwini spoke, I recalled the times I've heard a similar argument from people who vigorously defend one portion of the Bible but explain away another.
While I always expected such arguments from other religions or liberal Christians, I'm increasingly hearing the same thing from charismatic believers. Lately, I've read Spirit-filled authors explain why the Bible doesn't mean what it says, or why certain verses applied to ancient cultures but not to ours.
I know the Bible reflects the time and culture in which it was written, but I also believe that it transcends the ages. I've become a strong advocate that, unless it's exceptionally clear that something in the Bible is intended exclusively to apply to the audience of the past, then either the whole text itself or the principle idea of the text should apply to us today.
As I listened to Qazwini, I thought of Mormons and other groups that are claiming a similar position as the Islamic community. I thought about how we in the church had opened the door for their confusion by telling them in our finest schools that the Bible is not necessarily the Word of God and that it has many areas that are gray, fuzzy and in need of development by further revelation. I felt bad, surrounded by a huge population of Muslims in Detroit who believe Jesus is a prophet of God, but whose words apply primarily to people 2,000 years ago and not to people today. What was worse was that I knew I was also surrounded by Christian churches and Bible schools that believe almost the same thing.
Unfortunately, some of us in the charismatic/ Pentecostal church have started adopting a liberal view of the scriptures we don't like. Too many of us are drifting in the direction of the old mainline churches of half a century ago, and are either ignoring or explaining away portions of Scripture.
After my meeting with Qazwini, I see with even greater clarity the trick of the snake in Genesis 3:1 when he said, "Did God really say...?" He was questioning whether God meant what God said, and he's asking us the same question today.
I think it's important for us to be thoughtful, but not doubtful. We should squirm every time we hear anyone explain why the things that the Bible says don't apply.
Simply put, if the Spirit-filled church weakens its position with the Scriptures, we will be left with nothing but powerless churches and empty hype.